The power of appreciation wells up from the belief that we have been granted by God the option to seek and choose to be in the company of people, events, and things that offer us the benefits of joy and peace, of dynamism and delight. Among them we find positivity, not negativity; respect, not envy; empathy, not indifference.
In our pleasure-seeking, functionalistic world this distinctively human capacity to experience lasting happiness remains either underdeveloped or overwhelmed by lesser values that incline us to settle for instant gratification or measurable success only.
The options offered to us, together with the freely chosen decisions we make, color for better or worse the past, current, and future directions of our life. How, then, do we make sense out of the events that shape our day-to-day existence? What is it that helps us to find lasting meaning in relation to self, others, and God?
The more we redirect our feelings, thoughts, and decisions toward an outlook characterized by appreciative abandonment to the mystery, the sooner we will discover that the ups and downs of life may challenge us, but they will never defeat us.
Each turning point—from youth to young adulthood, from middle to old age—can be an occasion for us to renew our faith journey. In the words of the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, we believe in the truth that: For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.
These words from his diary, Markings, reveal how this devoted Christian found his deepest identity in the Lord. They confirm the belief that from birth to death we are made in God’s image and precious in God’s sight (see Proverbs 3:15).
Beyond either physical traits or functional talents resides the deepest secret of who we are called and chosen by the Lord to be. Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me (Isaiah 49:1).
So deep is this revelation of our union and communion with the Trinitarian Mystery that nothing other than an intimate relationship with the Lord can fulfill it. In the words of the psalmist: You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance (Psalm 32:7).
These scriptural texts bring to light the spiritual hunger that overtakes us whenever we try to settle for vital gratification or functional success only. The “eat, drink, and be merry” adage of a hedonistic society may feel satisfying for a while, but it does not address the truth that our worth goes beyond such gifts as belonging to a good family or enjoying the support of friends and co-workers. The happiness we seek evokes gratitude for every passing gift we receive, provided we stand on the sure foundation of faith. It frees us to pursue the deepest truth in this temporal world: that only God suffices.
Tempting as it may be to become more depreciative than appreciative, we need to ask God daily to align who we are and what we do with the plan of Divine Providence. It guides us like a reliable compass in times of trouble; it sustains us when our courage wanes. It reminds us that God is gracious to us, even though we have sinned against him (see Psalm 41). Our Savior says, Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
A simple way to appreciate the wonder and mystery of grace is to ponder the origin of the word. It comes from the Greek charis, meaning benevolence shown by the “gods” toward the human race. It is a gift we cannot control or compel; it flows forth from the mercy of God.
Grace means more than gifts of nature like the blessing of bodily health; the sharpness of a sound mind; the comfort of food, clothing, and shelter. Grace transforms and deepens these gifts in ways that surpass all human powers and claims. It is the indispensable means by which we are able to transform our pretranscendent life from the illusion of mastery to the freeing posture of serving what transcends yet lovingly embraces every detail of our existence.
Another feature of this awakening is that it arouses awareness of the deepest worth of every person. It prompts us to celebrate the promise of the Good Shepherd that only goodness and mercy shall follow [us] all the days of [our] life (Psalm 23:4).
In the past we may have been inclined to petition Christ to fulfill our needs to feel gratified and to succeed in a worldly sense. We saw God primarily as a Divine Helper rather than a Divine Caller. Now we experience Christ in the core of our being as our Divine Friend with whom we long to be more intimately united.
As our relationship with the Holy Trinity deepens, we discover the peace and joy that accompany us day by day when we model our life on that of our Divine Master. In his sight, we come to appreciate how deeply loved we are; how purposeful our life of service to others is; and how much more faithful we want to be on this journey from earth to heaven, from time to eternity.